Thousands of vote-by-mail ballots throughout California are sitting in county registrar offices right now and will never be counted. Some signatures on ballot envelopes don't match the one on the voter's registration card. Other ballots are from previous elections. However, the most common reason ballots don't get counted is that they are not in the county's hands by 8:00 p.m. Election Night. An Election Day postmark is not good enough and many counties don't notify voters their ballot won't be counted.
"I think it's a dirty little secret that we're keeping from voters, quite frankly, this vote-by-mail ballots that are too late to get counted," said Kim Alexander from the California Voter Foundation.
In 2008, nearly half a million ballots were not counted in the three statewide elections combined that year. The final tally is not in yet, but Los Angeles County currently has more than 6,000 late ballots while Santa Clara has nearly 2,000. Sacramento County's count is approaching 1,500. Voter turnout could actually be raised if late ballots were included.
State lawmakers tried to give elections officials some breathing room this year by allowing ballots postmarked close to or on Election Day to be counted, but Assembly Republicans blocked the proposal.
With a new Democratic super-majority in the Legislature next year, it will be easier to change election laws, and St. Sen. President Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, is determined to put postmark changes on the to-do list.
"If we're going to encourage voting by mail, which we ought to do, then we need to make sure that people who got their ballots in on time, which is Election Day, that their vote actually count," said Steinberg.
"As long as we have this vote-by-mail system, which half the voters are participating in, we need to make it a more forgiving process," said Alexander.
With some races so tight this year, late ballots could have made a difference.